Have you checked you bag recently?
An airtight bag is an absolute must if you want to produce a stable tone. When you can produce a stable tone, you can tune your pipes well and produce a pleasing sound.
When I returned to piping after a hiatus of nearly thirty years, things had changed. It was as if I had entered a thirty-year slumber, almost like Rip Van Winkel, and awoke to world I did not recognize.
Prior to my hiatus, pipe bags were made exclusively from hide. Elk hide bags were popular in my neck of the woods. Sheep and, to a lesser degree, goat skins were used for bags as well. Word had reached us from down under, and was quite intriguing at the time, that kangaroo skin showed some promise. Whatever type of bag one chose, bag tie-ins and seasoning were skills that every piper learned early on.
I woke to a world filled with Gore-Tex bags and a dizzying array of moisture control systems, tubes, and connectors. Whether one uses a synthetic or hide bag, though, it is essential that the bag is airtight.
Synthetic bags are popular because they are simple to “tie in.” In addition, they don’t require seasoning. But, while they are, for the most part, reliable, they can develop leaks and sometimes require just as much attention as "old-school" hide.
In order to ensure an airtight, synthetic bag, you should check it on a regular basis. In the Next Level Blueprint, Andrew recommends a full maintenance “work over” on your pipes once a month. Sound advice. It is important to include a thorough bag check in that “work over.”
To check your bag for airtightness, proceed systematically. Here are the tools that I assemble to check for leaks:
- Stock corks
- Dishwashing liquid
- Small dish
- Small paint brush
- Spray bottle filled with water
- A damp cloth
- A dry cloth
Remove your drones and chanter and then cork all the stocks except the blowpipe. This will be the same starting point for synthetic as well as hide bags. Inflate the bag until it is tight and can accept no more air.
Let it sit.
Check it after a minute. Is it still tight? If the answer is “yes,” you are probably golden. Can it accept any more air? If the answer is “no,” you are golden. Reassemble your pipes, crack a cold one, and toast your good fortune. Some individuals wait thirty seconds before checking the bag. Others may give the bag a big squeeze or go so far as to kneel on the fully inflated bag. Use your judgment. I’ve always let the bag sit inflated and waited a minute. Thirty seconds will probably suffice.
Whatever method you employ, if the bag can accept more air, then you have a leak and need to track it down. This is where proceeding systematically can help you to quickly find and rectify the problem. Here is a systematic order that you can follow:
- Check the bag overall
- Check the chanter stock
- Check the blowpipe stock and blowpipe (including the flapper valve)
- Check the drone stocks
- Check the seams, bottom, back, and front
- Check the zipper
When the bag is fully inflated, feel around the bag with your hand. A slightly moist palm will be able to feel small streams of air as it escapes. Use your ears and listen for leaks, you can often hear the hiss of air as it escapes. On the initial check, approach it systematically. Check the points where external parts connect: the chanter stock, the blowpipe stock, the drone stocks, the zipper. Check the seams where the bag is sewn or glued together. Run your hand over every inch of the bag to feel for leaks. If you are unable to detect a leak, proceed to the chanter stock.
The Chanter Stock
Use a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water (I usually use about a 50/50 solution) and paint it on around the area where the bag meets the stock. You can mix a small amount of the solution in a dish. Paint the solution on with a small paint brush (a craft brush from the hardware store works just fine). The solution will bubble where air is escaping. If necessary, use a spray bottle and mist the solution, this will often reveal leaks if the solution, by itself, won’t.
Use a moist cloth to wipe off the solution and then a dry cloth to dry the area.
Check the tie in point and make sure that the bag has not crimped or folded where the chanter stock is tied in. These little crimps and folds can provide a channel for air to escape. If you are using a hose clamp, loosen the hose clamp, smooth the crimps, and tighten the clamp again. Continue to smooth out the crimps as you slowly tighten the clamp. Tighten the clamp for a good seal and check again. If your stock is tied in using traditional cord, you may have to unwrap and retie.
It may be necessary to bulk up your chanter stock in order for it to fill the neck. This may help to eliminate folds and crimps. Cut a one-inch section of bicycle tire and stretch it over the tie-in groove on the chanter stock. This may give the stock enough bulk to fill the neck; you may need to add a second layer of tire section.
If you are using a bag that has an O-ring, make sure that the clamp is centered over the o-ring before you tighten it, then proceed slowly making sure that the clamp says centered as you proceed. Work out any folds or crimps in the skin as you tighten. Then retest.